Wales is an unlikely locale for a medical breakthrough, but shepherd Kevin Stephens is an unlikely farmer.
As reporter Thomas Quinn writes in the British magazine The Big Issue, Stephens plans to grow hundreds of acres of daffodils for harvesting in 2015 to sell commercially. Not to florists but to drug companies.
Stephens says drug companies are desperate for galantamine (or galanthamine, as it is otherwise called), a chemical naturally occurring in daffodils and snowdrops, which is capable of easing dementia symptoms for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
“The other growers think we are mad but we aren’t. And we have a way of extracting the galantamine no one has done either. It means we are even cheaper than China,” says Stephens of Agroceutical Products Ltd.
Galantamine, which helps ease the symptoms of memory loss and confusion, is approved for Alzheimer’s treatment in the U.S. and the U.K., among other countries.
But the naturally sourced ingredient’s medicinal properties have been known and harvested for years in Eastern Europe and China.
“During the Cold War, the Russians weren’t able to access Western medicine. So they spent a lot of time exploring plant-based remedies. They wrote many science papers about it at the time – but they were in Russian and weren’t read widely outside of the USSR.”
About 20 years ago Stephens’s colleague, Prof. Trevor Walker, came across Bulgarians growing snowdrops for galantime in Eastern Europe, but he put it out of his mind until a friend called about early-onset Alzheimer’s, and Walker had an Aha! moment.
Synthetic galantamine, used in Razadyne or Reminyl among other brand names, is expensive and in short supply. Walker thought the answer might be a commercial crop of flowers producing the chemical naturally. After six years of “kitchen table research,” he identified 12 to 15 varieties of daffodil and teamed up with Stephens in 2008 to grow sample crops.
This particular region of Wales, the Black Mountains, is perfect because the compound is found at much higher levels of concentration in daffodils grown at 1,400 feet.
Now, Stephens hopes to grow thousands of acres of spring daffs within a decade, at his remote hill farm in the Brecon Beacons. Other sheep farmers are signing on as well.
For more info, go to agroceutical.com